Our family is blessed in that we are not spiritual novices. This makes Lent a bit of a challenge since giving up chocolate isn’t really going to help any of us develop spiritually. I’ve always wanted to celebrate the Great Lent of the Eastern Catholic Church and have worked to slowly prepare us all in that direction. Because food is my great obsession, I have focused on our diet. Also this has the benefit of helping little people participate in Lent when they are young to choose a personal penance.
One year my older sister/Confirmation sponsor suggested that it was normal to not drink alcohol during Lent which opened a train of thought to me. Maybe we could have a set of things it was normal to give up as a family during Lent?
Our usual Lent means giving up:
Desserts made at home/bought by us (usually we make an exception for birthdays, unless, like this year, the birthdays fall on Good Friday. Also, the kids may choose to have a dessert if it is offered for a special reason like a friend’s b’day or a teacher prize for doing exceptionally well at a piano lesson)
Meat (some seafood still included)
Screen time–Afternoon 30 min for littles, Studio C for older kids
Social media–Facebook for me, Proboards for kids
Drastic reduction of caffeine, sugary non-desserts
This year beef is still occasionally on the menu since I’m pregnant. Also, I’m excused from fast and abstinence so I will choose to do these based on how I feel. Today I made a dinner menu for all of Lent (picture) keeping in mind that the Solemnities of St. Joseph and the Annunciation mean a gentle loosening of our restrictions. Also, St. Joseph has been moved from Sunday to Monday. I love the calendar I found for All Souls’ Day at Showerofroses.blogspot.com. I use it all the time for long-term planning like this.
Each of us also will do personal works of prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving to make our Lent a time of personal spiritual growth. The family Lent is simply a way to give everyone a leg up. As an incentive to the kids to work hard, we like to make a salt and water Crown of Thorns for Ash Wednesday and then pull a thorn out for each good work done. Another method is to buy beads and place them on the thorns so that by Easter the Crown of Thorns is a Crown of Glory. Of course, many people have fun crafty ideas for Lent, like Do Small Things with Great Love who includes crafts for adults too.
Two years ago when I was whining about Lenten sacrifices, my brother Fr. Chrysostom sent me these thoughts:
“It seems to me that people approach Lent with a certain trepidation, as if penance were the worst thing on planet Earth. However, if we were to incorporate penance into our daily lives throughout the year, two things would happen.
First, the obligation to do penance during Lent would place no additional burden on someone already doing daily penance. Law is for the unjust, St. Paul tells Timothy, not for the just. That is, it tells a man what to do who is not already doing what the law requires; but if he is already doing it, the law is superfluous to him. The Church therefore tells us to do penance during Lent to make sure we’re doing some penance, but if we’re already doing it, then we’re fulfilling the law and no additional burden needs to be borne. Nevertheless, from doing penance in a spirit of penance, we will be more conformed to Christ, and then we’ll want to do additional penance during Lent, but that is by inspiration, not obligation.
Second, the continual training of self-imposed penance throughout the year makes us better able to handle those non-self-imposed penances that God lays on our shoulders. Penance becomes less terrifying to us as a concept, and so embracing our cross is not as revolting. Undergoing those penances God gives us with a measure of grace and gratitude is only part of His plan. To the degree that we struggle with our inner demons in order to do so, He is also revealing us to ourselves–and that’s the deeper part of His plan; but such a revelation, though it promises great growth, is hardly possible unless we to carry our cross well, and in order to do that…well, back to daily penance.
So, penance traditionally comes in the form of prayer, fasting, and mercy. Surely there must be a short prayer or set of prayers (really, just a minute or two) that you can offer primarily for the intention of doing penance for your sins and cooperating with Christ in His work of redemption. Getting it in on a daily basis; not procrastinating so long during the day that it never gets done; doing it anyway even though you’re bored with it–all this adds that aspect of arduousness that makes prayer a good penance.